November 26, 2022

Blinken makes first trip to North Africa amid raging anger from U.S. Congress over weapons sales to Morocco

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken departs Warsaw, Poland, en route to Jerusalem, Israel, on March 26, 2022. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken departs Warsaw, Poland, en route to Jerusalem, Israel, on March 26, 2022. [State Department photo by Freddie Everett

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will be making his first official trip to North Africa since he came into office early last year amid raging anger from U.S. Congress over weapons sales to the Kingdom of Morocco.

Early this month, United States Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53) and Congressman Colin Allred (D-TX-32) sent a letter to President Joseph R. Biden Jr., urging the administration not to proceed with any significant or offensive weapons sales with Morocco.

They asserted that “such sales would be highly inappropriate in light of recent escalating violence between Morocco’s security forces and the Polisario, the lack of assurances from Morocco that such weapons will not be used against the Sahrawi people, and the lack of progress towards a political referendum and a final peace agreement with Western Sahara.”

The letter was also signed by nine other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: including Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1), Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN-3), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA-7), Rep. Ted W. Lieu (CA-53), Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI-9), and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI-1).

The letter was endorsed by seven organizations, including Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Legacy of Equality Leadership Organizing (LELO), WE International, Grace Initiative Global, U.S.-Western Sahara Foundation, Nonviolence International, and Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

You can read the full letter below

March 3, 2022

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden:

We write to express our concern with the current U.S. policy on Morocco and the Kingdom’s claims to the Western Sahara. In December 2020, the previous Administration officially recognized Morocco’s claims of sovereignty over the Western Sahara, despite the fact that for decades both Republican and Democrat administrations have refused to recognize Morocco’s claims of sovereignty over the territory. 

As a result of this policy reversal, the United States is now the only country to officially recognize Morocco’s claims in contravention of international law and the internationally recognized right to self-determination.  The International Court of Justice and the E.U. Court of Justice have issued multiple landmark rulings upholding the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination and concluding that Morocco has no valid claim to the territory.

We are particularly concerned about the arms package that the Biden Administration has agreed to enter into with Morocco. In December of last year, the previous Administration notified Congress of $1 billion in weapons sales to Morocco, including four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones and Hellfire, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided munitions, and this deal is set to move forward under this Administration. Without assurances from Morocco otherwise, we are concerned that these weapons may be used in an offensive manner against the Sahrawi people or may otherwise facilitate Morocco’s illegal occupation of the territory. 

Finally, while we were heartened by the recent appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the UN Secretary General’s new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, we are concerned that the United States has not made a clear commitment to signifying to the United Nations that Washington supports a peaceful and lasting settlement between Morocco and the Sahrawis’ recognized government representatives. 

Therefore, we urge the Administration not to proceed with any significant or offensive weapons sales with Morocco. Such sales would be highly inappropriate in light of recent escalating violence between Morocco’s security forces and the Polisario, the lack of assurances from Morocco that such weapons will not be used against the Sahrawi people, and the lack of progress towards a political referendum and a final peace agreement with Western Sahara. We also request a briefing for the undersigned members on the arms package and the Administration’s recent policy review towards both Western Sahara and Morocco, including the short- and long-term consequences of recognizing Morocco’s territorial claims on the prospects for peace.

The United States has a critical role to play in this prolonged dispute. We hope it can be one that ensures the Sahrawi people are able to live in freedom, dignity, and peace, and can exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. We thank you for your urgent attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely,

Sara Jacobs                                        Colin Allred

Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

Dina Titus                                            Dean Phillips

Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

Juan Vargas                                        Susan Wild

Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

Ted W. Lieu                                        Andy Levin

Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

Joaquin Castro                                    David N. Cicilline

Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

Karen Bass

Member of Congress

CC: 

Gregory Meeks

Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Antony Blinken, Secretary

U.S. Department of State

The State Department announced on Thursday that Secretary Blinken will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Morocco, and Algeria March 26-30 “to consult with partners on a range of regional and global priorities, including the Russian government’s war on Ukraine, Iran’s destabilizing activities, the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements with Israel, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and preserving the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other topics.”

State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said Secretary Blinken will start his trip in Israel and the West Bank. “There, he will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

“The Secretary will underscore the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, engage on Israeli-Palestinian issues, and discuss regional and global challenges with his counterparts in the Israeli government,” Price said. “The Secretary will also meet with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah as well as with representatives of Palestinian civil society.  In these meetings, the Secretary will emphasize the importance of strengthening U.S.-Palestinian relations, and advancing freedom, security and prosperity for the Palestinian people.”

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Price added, “In Morocco, he will meet with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and other senior government officials to exchange views on regional issues and bilateral cooperation, as well as advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Secretary will also meet with exceptional Moroccan alumnae of U.S.-sponsored exchange programs.

“While in Rabat, the Secretary will also meet Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss regional security and international developments.

“The Secretary will then travel to Algiers, Algeria for meetings with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to discuss regional security and stability, commercial cooperation, advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and other areas of mutual concern.  The Secretary will also officially inaugurate the United States as the Country of Honor at the Algiers International Trade Fair, the largest trade show of its kind in Africa. He will meet with U.S. business representatives in Algeria to discuss deepening economic ties and promoting U.S.-Algeria trade and investment.

“During the course of his trip, the Secretary will emphasize to all of the foreign leaders he meets that the United States stands in solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the face of the Kremlin’s aggression.  We will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to impose further costs on Putin and his enablers if Putin does not change course.”

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